Enjoying Peak-Season Figs
Elspeth Hay recently spent some time with her fig expert friends, learning about the best way to prune and care for her young fig tree. She shares some great tips on properly handling the growth and a terrific recipe for a simple salad that perfectly plays off of peak-season figs’ natural sweetness.
Charlie says old Mrs. Capello used to bury her trees, the way they did in Italy. You dug around the roots, she said—about three quarters of the way—until you found the main root. This was in late fall, around the time you might start to expect cold weather, a frost. You left the main root buried and folded the rest of the tree to the ground. They’re very flexible, figs. Then you buried the whole tree, limbs and all, after giving it a little trimming. It stayed there, safe, until spring.
That was the old way.
Charlie doesn’t do it like that—his partner Carol chops the trees down to three feet, maybe four. They don’t prune them into single trunk trees, either, but instead let the suckers grow up from the base. It makes them less productive, maybe, the fruit a little smaller, but it means they can give new starts to friends. There must be dozens of fig owners in Wellfleet by now, Charlie says.
I got a start from a neighbor a few years back. It isn’t producing yet, but it’s taken off recently. It was in a pot and now the ground, and based on the leaves, it’s a descendent of one of Charlie’s. He has two trees—horse figs, Mrs. Capello called them—two starts from the originals she brought over from Italy. They’re right outside his house, on the side that’s south facing, and some years, even with the trimming, the growth reaches the second story windows. It’s nothing, he says, in a year to get 8, 10, even 12 feet.
And then there are the figs. Figs are not a fruit, not technically. They are something more particular, more unusual, called an infructescence—a bud that swells off every scion, flowers internally, and turns into the juicy delight we call a fig. That pink middle part—that seedy, stringy carpet—that’s the bloom initially. As the swell they grow to about an inch and a half in diameter, then the skin turns brown and begins to crack, and then they’re sweet and ready.
This article originally appeared on DiaryofaLocavore.com. It is partially posted here with permission of the author.
Photo Credit: Elspeth Hay
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